Which shorts should you opt for when setting out on long rides? This topic rears its head in online groups every spring. The commenters below the line invariably recommend various manufacturers and there is also always a lot of debate about the superiority of one padding over the others.
But what exactly makes us comfortable in some bibs (slang for “bib shorts”), while in other ones we end up swearing like a trooper after 100 km? Is it the padding, the cut, or some other nifty ideas?
The ideal padding for long rides should be high-density (to maintain springiness after many hours of riding), be about 12-15 mm thick, ensure ventilation, and be pleasant to the touch.
The most popular manufacturers of pads are: Dr Pad, Dolomiti, La Fonte and Elastic Interface. I have tested padding from all four manufacturers on my own body (well, one particular part of the body to be exact).
Elastic won. Why? Well, its high density provided comparable cushioning to Dolomiti and La Fonte, but it was much more breathable, thus minimising the risk of irritation.
What’s more, Elastic sells women’s equivalents of its top men’s pads. Unfortunately, this is not always the case with other manufacturers.
Here is a top tip for ladies: when choosing shorts, make sure that they have the same lining sewn into them as in the men’s versions. Sometimes producers use cheaper padding in women’s shorts.
For example, the padding we use is Elastic Interface Road Performance Force – the best model of long-distance pads.
Ventilation, 14 mm thickness, up to 200 kg/m3 density
Ventilation, 11 mm thickness (it's thinner due to lower women's weight), up to 200 kg/m3 density
And one more thing: those once popular gel inserts do not work at all. The gel prevents effective ventilation, leading to abrasions.
There are also several approaches when it comes to sewing in the padding. We use a zigzag stitch, because then as little thread as possible comes into contact with the skin, and thus the risk of developing abrasions is reduced.
Looks strange, but give comfort to skin
The seam is big
The cut and fabric
In one day of riding, you will turn the pedals about 50,000 times. Even a minimal movement of the padding against your sweaty body, multiplied by the number of pedal turns, leads to a risk of chafing.
Shorts should lie in such a way that the insert does not move in relation to the body. It actually should slightly press against the buttocks.
Therefore, the bibs should have strong support above the waist: in the hips or using braces. We use material that compresses you around the waist, thanks to which the shorts do not slide down and thus they hold the insert in place. Braces are only an accessory; with men they are arranged so as to avoid the nipples and gently tighten the shorts at the waist. In women’s shorts, however, one brace at the front pulls the padding up – closer to the body.
Some manufacturers, on the other hand, use short, tightly stretched braces and they hang the bibs on them, ensuring the insert is well positioned. Each solution has its supporters and detractors.
Additionally, well-cut shorts should have as few wrinkles as possible, but, of course, when in a riding position. When measuring bibs standing up, don’t worry about any folds under your buttocks. They will disappear when you get on your bike. However, pay attention to whether the fabric fits well on the inside of the leg, preferably ensuring that there are no seams.
Shorts can be sewn on autolap machines to create flat seams. Sounds like the perfect solution? Well, a flat seam can have disadvantages – it is rough to the touch.
Many top manufacturers (including us) use seams that are not flat, but instead are ones that resist “lifting” while riding. Thanks to this, they do not rub and (in my opinion) look better.
It is also worth paying attention to how the leg is finished. Any silicone found there should be gentle on the skin.
Accessories and nifty ideas
The first thing that comes to mind is padding that is not sewn up at the sides, which is one of the ways of stabilising an insole to keep it in place. Does it work? Of course. But you can get a similar result with a good cut of the shorts (see previous section).
Accessories? Well, there are, for example, pockets. If you need them, pay attention to whether they are in accessible places and whether they will keep your stuff from falling out.
Detachable braces are great for women’s shorts. Thanks to them, going to the toilet (especially in low temperatures) is much much easier.
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Is there such a thing as the perfect bibs?
There isn’t. Each of us is built differently and has different preferences, etc.
Naturally, though, we recommend our shorts, because we made them in accordance with the guidelines described above.